In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed new rules which were meant to protect consumer online privacy.
The Obama-era broadband privacy rules sought to limit how ISPs use and sell user data, asserting that Americans have a right to control the collection and use of their personal information.
While the Congress later voted to kill these landmark privacy rules, enacting them in the first place speaks volumes about the spying nature of ISPs.
Why Is Your ISP Spying On You?
Someone isn't sitting around and watching every move you make online, but that doesn't necessarily mean your browsing history is private. It's actually stored somewhere on your ISP's servers. All the data passing through your router is gathered and kept by your ISP.
They spy on you for a number of reasons, one of them is that your browsing history is a valuable source of revenue. Many ISPs collect users' data without their authorization and then sell it to marketing and advertising companies for a profit.
Furthermore, ISPs are also legally required to retain customer data which can be accessed by law enforcement and other government agencies. So, if served a subpoena, your ISP would have no other option but to disclose all the information on you.
What Can Your ISP See?
If you're one of those rare individuals who don't share any of their personal information online, then the data your ISP will be able to gather, based exclusively on your Internet Protocol (IP) address, includes the following:
The URLs you visit
The web pages you visit frequently
The time you typically log in and log out
How long you spend on specific web pages.
When you knowingly put your sensitive information online, the situation gets much worse. If you fall under this category, and most of us unfortunately do courtesy of social media, your ISP can have a lot more data on you, including:
Your email address
Your current location (i.e., if you have location enabled)
Your phone number
Your social media use
Your personal relationships.
How To Prevent ISP Spying?
Now that you have a better idea of how your ISP is spying on you, and what pieces of data they're collecting, you might be wondering "are there any ways to minimize, if not stop, my ISP's ability to track me online?"
Truth is, if you don't want your moves to be tracked online, the only way to do so is by not using the internet. However, there are a few things that can be done to minimize how much of your data ISPs can collect and use:
1. Use HTTPS Everywhere
Using HTTPS won't encrypt everything that you do online. It instead ensures that your data is encrypted during transmission, which keeps it safe from interception. Your ISP would still be able to see what websites you visit, but they won't be able to tell what you do once you're there.
Take, for instance, you visit Netflix to watch your favorite movie, documentary, or TV show. The ISP will know that you visited the popular streaming service, but they won't be aware of what videos you watched or searched for on Netflix.
2. Use Tor Browser
Tor is a free, open-source browser that gives users the ability to browse the web with a cloak of anonymity. You're given a protected IP address and your information is split across different nodes around the world, encrypting it in the process and making you difficult to track.
Unfortunately, it's unable to encrypt anything when you're not using the browser. This means it can't prevent your ISP from collecting your confidential information when you're using apps. Then, there's also the risk of attracting government attention as cybercriminals often use Tor.
3. Use a Paid VPN
Arming yourself with a Virtual Private Network is the best way to ensure your online activities remain hidden from your ISP. What is a VPN, though? It's a technology that hides your original IP address and routes all your traffic and communications through an encrypted tunnel.
As a result, ISPs will no longer be able to figure out what you're up to online. However, given that your online activity would still be accessible to your VPN, it's extremely important that you choose a trustworthy provider.
PureVPN is a GDPR-compliant VPN service with more than 2,000 servers and over 300,000 anonymous IPs in more than 140 countries. It also comes packed with an array of features such as Internet Kill Switch, Split Tunneling, as well as premium add-ons such as P2P Protection, making it our top recommendation.
It's important to understand that the ultimate goal of ISPs, as with any other business, is to make a profit. And a large chunk of that profit comes from collecting and selling users' information. Therefore, if you don't like the idea of being spied by your ISP online, it's high time that you take the responsibility of protecting your privacy in your own two hands.